by Swami Krishnananda
In the process of the creation of the universe, three powerful forces emanate from God, and these forces constitute the stuff of the whole of creation. It is, as it were, three arms of God projecting themselves outwardly in cosmic space and time and enacting this drama of life in all the planes of existence. God plays the role of the actor in this drama, as well as the director and the witness thereof. These three forces, which proceed from the Supreme Being like rays from the sun, are known as sattva, rajas and tamas. They are known as the gunas or the properties of that original condition which is responsible for the entire panorama of creation. On the one hand there is the vast world of varieties of material objects, all constituted of the basic elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, which constitute or are formed of the tamas portion of this original emanation from God. One would wonder how tamas can be in God, because it is regarded as darkness, a screening out of the light, which cannot be reconciled with the blaze and the glory of the light of the Creator. This is a point which requires consideration and understanding. Another aspect rushes forth simultaneously and divides this creation into various isolated bodies known as jivas,individuals, you and I and everything that we see as the units of creation—this is the work of rajas. The dividing factor in creation is called rajas, and the material substance of creation is called tamas.
Now, life cannot go on with merely a dividing factor and a material substance, because neither of these have a sustaining capacity. The material object is like dead matter, almost equated with a state of unconsciousness, such as a stone, a brick wall, or what we call the inorganic field, and the force of division, again, cannot be regarded as an intelligent power. Neither the energy that rushes forth into division nor the energy that condenses or solidifies itself into matter can be regarded as intelligent purposive organisers of creation. So God remains as the ordainer of the law of unity even in the midst of this diversity. This function of the prevalence of the unifying factor in the midst of this dividing activity of rajas, together with the inert substantiality of the material cosmos, is known as sattva.
God’s actions are simultaneous and cannot be said to proceed one after the other. Everything happens at the same time—a miraculous instantaneity is the characteristic of God’s activity. He does not work as we do, doing one thing after another. “Now I am doing this and I will do another thing later on.” There is no succession of actions or functions in the realm of the universal creation. These universal forces are impersonal in their nature. These terms, sattva, rajas and tamas, used here in the context of the creation of the cosmos, are forces which are not human. That peculiar feature we call the human element is completely absent in the level of cosmic existence, because it has not yet originated. There is no distinction in this classification of what we call human, subhuman, etc., though these qualities have an individualised form or nature also. The very same sattva, rajas and tamas begin functioning in a topsy-turvy manner when there is isolation or the dividing of individuals, just as the reflection of the sun in shaky, muddy water, or the reflection of one’s own body in a pool or a mass of water looks topsy-turvily reflected.
In this isolation of the individual, which is the consequence of the dividing work of rajas, a great calamity befalls everyone. This is the origin of the story of the fall of the spirit from the angelic Garden of Eden in biblical mythology and in the mythologies of all creational doctrines. A consciousness of personality consequent upon an unconsciousness of one’s relation to God’s universality is the beginning of the catastrophe of human suffering. There is an unconsciousness preceding our present state of intellectual, rational, personal consciousness. We cannot be individually conscious unless we are at the same time unconscious of universality. There is a veiling power operating at the base of this multitudinous variety of creation. We are very highly evolved intellectuals and rational individuals, as we imagine ourselves to be, but we are reflected intelligences, cut off from the source and divested of the consciousness of our universal relevance to God’s omnipotent and omnipresent Being.
There was a great philosopher called Schopenhauer in
In this distortion and separation of the individual by the work of rajas, something very unfortunate has been done. Nothing can be more unfortunate than to forget the truth and to cling to untruth. We are the untruths appearing here as so-called individuals, having no connection of one with the other. The truth is that we are basically united. As I mentioned originally, God in His sattva aspect cosmically exists even now, just as we as individuals exist even in deep sleep where we are practically unconscious of our own being. That is why, in spite of all our self-affirmation and clinging to personalities and things of the world, we also have a subtle impulse from within us to unite ourselves into a body, an organisation and a friendly community of people. Even rustics and boors and very crude intelligences that are undeveloped and are comparable to the apish type of humanity have this group mentality. Even monkeys and cattle have this sense to group themselves into bodies or species or types, which is a very faint reflection of the necessity for garnering such a thing called the unity behind the diversity, or the division worked out by rajas.
So God exists even in the world, even in this variety of the cosmos. This is the great philosophical basis that is described in a psychological manner in the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita—the division of the three gunas into sattva, rajas and tamas. The universe, formed in this manner and consisting of these varieties, is compared to a vast, widespread tree whose roots are above and branches are below. We all are like the leaves and the fruits, and are sometimes compared to the birds perching on this tree, and so on. The roots of the tree are invisible, in the high heavens, because they are the imperceptible unity that is pervading the variety we call creation. Hence it is that we cannot see God. Not merely that—we cannot be even aware of the existence of God due to the intellect being conditioned to this body and our isolatedness, which asserts itself so vehemently that it will not permit the awareness of that vast universality called God. Neither can we see God, nor can we understand God—what could be a greater sorrow for us then this?
But the great panacea is described in this great gospel, which speaks of this comparison of the universe as a tree spreading forth downwards through the branches and getting itself rooted in the supreme Absolute. We are caught up in this variety on account of clinging to particulars—bodies, our own as well as those connected with us through social relationship. That this has to be severed is the great teaching. The art of detachment is the most difficult thing to understand, because we are accustomed to see union and separation of bodies. By the term ‘detachment’ we are likely to imagine that a body has to be physically separated from another body, because we think only in terms of bodies. For a small child studying in kindergarten, to be taught that one and one make two, one object has to be placed before it in juxtaposition with another object, physically. The teacher may put a finger on a solid object and say, “Here is one object and there is another object, and they make two objects.” The baby, in that condition, cannot understand abstract thinking. Likewise an abstract, spiritual concept of detachment is outside the reach of the mind of the individual who is accustomed only to think in terms of solid bodies. So when we think of spiritual detachment, renunciation, we think in particular of a cutting off of bodies, whereas the great teachings of the spiritual adepts is the disassociation of consciousness from its association with objectivity of every kind. It is not objects that bind us, but objectivity of consciousness. The insistence of consciousness that things exist outside it is the attachment and the detachment.